The BnF

Discover the renovated spaces of Richelieu Library

The Richelieu Library was partly reopened to visitors on December the 15th, 2016. The reading rooms and exhibition area of the renovated part of the site compose a discovery path that will be complete in 2020 at the end of the renovation work.

Practical information


The site is open to visitors Monday-Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Public areas (except for reading rooms) are freely accessible.

In the Labrouste hall, one can find the main services intended to visitors and readers:

  • the general reception desk,
  • the accreditation service for BnF and INHA readers,
  • the service dedicated to the reproduction of documents,
  • a relax area,
  • the cashdesks,
  • and the cloakrooms.

Guided tours (including a brief stop in certain reading rooms) will also be proposed from February 2017.

For more info

Parcours-découverte du site Richelieu

Après 5 années de travaux, la zone 1 du quadrilatère Richelieu retrouve sa splendeur.

To be noted

Renovated reading rooms are available to the readers of the Manuscripts and Performing Arts Departments. During the second phase of the renovation work, some temporary spaces are dedicated to the readers of the Department of Prints and Photography (in the Labrouste reading room) and of the Department of Coins, Medals and Antiques (reading rooms located at the ground floor of the Colbert wing)

Until 2020, the reading room of the Maps and Plans Department is located in Room R at François-Mitterrand Library.

Discover the renovated spaces

Most of the buildings located along the rue de Richelieu date back to the 19th century. This area gathers the emblematic achievements of Henri Labrouste, the architect who was entrusted with the responsibility of the rebuilding project of the Imperial Library in 1854.
Labrouste developed innovative choices to expand the Imperial Library. He mainly designed the new reading room and the central bookstores.

The Bibliothèque Nationale was famous for its modernism and design ingenuity; its architecture was copied everywhere around the world. More than a place, Labrouste created a lasting model which was restored to its original splendour.

Bruno Gaudin, the architect in charge of the renovation work since 2008, wishes to join the great architects of the library. He discloses the historical side of the place while providing all spaces with modern comfort: he opens the building on the city to welcome a wider audience.

This film, produced by Jean-François-Roudot, is the result of a coproduction between the Forum des images, the Oppic, the BnF and the INHA; it presents a synthesis of the renovation work at Richelieu Library from 2010 to 2016 and a prefiguration of the site at the end of the renovation work in 2020. Duration : 14 min 34 s.

The courtyard of honour


The only façade renovated so far is the one providing access to the reading romms. This building was designed by Henri Labrouste in 1867. In 2020, when the renovation work is complete, the old cobbling of the courtyard of honour will be reconstructed. Overhanging the court, the glass gallery conceived by architect Bruno Gaudin now offers the possibility of a view from above.


Like the whole of Richelieu Library, the courtyard of honour is lined with buildings of different historical periods. A 18th century façade, classified as a historic monument, has been preserved in the central part of the building; it is the only outside vestige of the work of architect Robert de Cotte. The North wing, at the left of the entrance and also raised by Jules-Robert de Cotte thanks to the plans designed by his father, was rebuilt in 1877 by architect Pascal who preferred to follow the old model.

The neo-classical façades in the South and West parts of the court were raised by Henri Labrouste between 1870 and 1872.

The glass gallery


The glass gallery conceived by architect Bruno Gaudin now allows to join the areas accessible to the public at the first floor of the library; moreover, it offers to visitors a view on the court from above. The gallery leads to the reading room of the Manuscripts Department. In 2020, at the end of the renovation work, it will join up the two parts of the building and the exhibition areas. This gallery allows to create a comprehensive path on the whole of the first floor and reflects the wish to open the site to a wider audience.

Henri Labrouste himself had set up at the same place a wooden gallery. The one created by Bruno Gaudin stands for a modern reinterpretation of the previous gallery.

The Labrouste hall, Labrouste reading room and Central bookstores

The Labrouste hall


Listed by the French Historic Monument Society, the hall accessible from the courtyard of honour, was entirely restored.

Its aesthetical aspect recalls Pompéi vestiges and the Etruscan graves: light-coloured marble paving with red round cabochons and green edge around, stone-covered walls and bas-reliefs inlaid with polished marble disks.

The Labrouste reading room


Classified as a historic monument since 1983, this room was realized between 1861 and 1868; the masterpiece of Henri Labrouste, it is the key component of a major reorganization project of the BnF. Now housing the bibliothèque de l’INHA, it covers nearly 10 000 m² and proposes 400 seats. A temporary space is dedicated to the readers of the Department of Prints and Photography.
In the framework of the renovation work supervised by architect Bruno Gaudin and chief architect of historic monuments Jean-François Lagneau, it is the whole structure but also the paintings, floor and furniture that have been refurbished. These elements have been thoroughly cleaned to restore the room with its original splendour, without any modifications.


Henri Labrouste uses again the principle of a metallic structure that he tried out for the conception of Sainte-Geneviève library, but this time in a completely different style that recalls the Eastern Roman Empire. Nine earthenware domes bring a uniform light in the room. They are supported by openwork iron arches hanging down on 16 slender cast-iron columns which contributes to an extraordinary impression of lightness. In 1964, the landscape painter Alexandre Desgoffe realized the paintings that can be seen above the side bookstacks; showing green nature, they are intended to help readers feeling quiet and relaxed... 36 medallions representing men of letters from any part of the world run around the circumference of the room.

At the beginning, the room was not equipped with artificial light to avoid the risks of gas lighting. In the 20's, electricity was born and some lamps were put in; they are still in use today. Some of them are equipped with opaline lampshades.

Click on images for a larger view

  • © Jean-Christophe Ballot/BnF/Oppic/Inha/Enc (agrandir l'image)
  • © Jean-Christophe Ballot/BnF/Oppic/Inha/Enc (agrandir l'image)
  • © Jean-Christophe Ballot/BnF/Oppic/Inha/Enc (agrandir l'image)
  • © Jean-Christophe Ballot/BnF/Oppic/Inha/Enc (agrandir l'image)
  • © Jean-Christophe Ballot/BnF/Oppic/Inha/Enc (agrandir l'image)
  • © Jean-Christophe Ballot/BnF/Oppic/Inha/Enc (agrandir l'image)

The Central Bookstores


Behind the Labrouste reading room, the two monumental caryatids made by the sculptor Joseph Perraud mark the entrance in the heart of Labrouste fittings: the big central bookstores. For the first time ever, these three-storeyed bookstores are going to be accessible to readers. The bibliothèque de l'INHA offers some 60 seats in this space and the possibility to consult in free access several tens of thousands of books in the field of arts history.

Bruno Gaudin and Jean-François Lagneau have restored it to its original aspect; they also made possible the opening of the place to the public. In this context, Bruno Gaudin created a series of contemporary pieces of furniture: displays, upright terminals, individual seats located among the historical bookstacks, a series of three, four or six seater tables.

In 1865, the design of the central bookstores for printed books is revolutionary. It marks the division between the reading areas and the storage ones; however, it can still be seen from the reading room. There are 4 floors and a basement in the bookstores. Each floor is 2m30 heigh to avoid using ladders. The different level are made of duckboards to let the light enter through the glass roof. Moreover it is very easy to go from one section to another. For all these reasons, the central bookstores will be considered as a benchmark for several years. The collections of printed books will be stored there for 130 ans before being moved to the François-Mitterrand Library in 1998.

Conceived to house 1 million and 200 000 volumes, the bookstores were already too small at the opening ceremony. However, their vertical conception, their proximity with the reading room and a clever system to transport the documents make the service efficient and rapid as never before.


New spaces for the Performing Arts Department

Permanently settled at Richelieu Library, the Performing Arts Department has found its natural place at the heart of Paris and its theaters, near the Comédie-Française, the Opéra Garnier, the Théâtre du Palais-Royal and all the theaters located on the Grands Boulevards. Its windows open onto the square Louvois where the Opéra was erected in the early 19th century. The visitors will have the opportunity to discover the wealth of the department's collections but also three magnificent rooms.

The Rotonde des Arts du spectacle


The Rotonde is a new exhibition area dedicated to the collections of the Performing Arts Department. The original fitting-out and and scenery, conceived and realized by Henri Labrouste between 1870 and 1875, have been preserved and restored.

This place, which was formerly closed to visitors, becomes part of a tour available to all; it is the first element of a museum path that will be open at the end of the renovation in 2020. It is also a place which allows to join the glass gallery and admire the view of the courtyard of honour as well as the reading room of the Manuscripts Department.


Sarah Bernhardt par Jules Masson, 1889

About 40 pieces mainly selected among the collections of the Performing Arts Department are presented in this space. Some of them are presented continuously such as the portrait of Rachel, the famous tragedienne, or the bust of André Antoine who invented modern staging. Others are presented in turn for preservation reasons. At the opening of the Rotonde, the following pieces are on display: the embroidered and adorned with precious stones coat made for Sarah Bernhardt in "Théodora", a puppet in the Burmese style from the Edward Gordon Craig collection, a scale model by René Allio for the Tartuffe produced by Roger Planchon. Graphic documents or manuscripts are also accessible to the public. Housed in drawers, they are so preserved from light exposure.

Click on images for a larger view

  • © Jean-Christophe Ballot/BnF/Oppic (agrandir l'image)
  • © Jean-Christophe Ballot/BnF/Oppic (agrandir l'image)
  • © Jean-Christophe Ballot/BnF/Oppic (agrandir l'image)
  • © Jean-Christophe Ballot/BnF/Oppic (agrandir l'image)
  • © Jean-Christophe Ballot/BnF/Oppic (agrandir l'image)
  • © Jean-Christophe Ballot/BnF/Oppic (agrandir l'image)

The Auguste Rondel gallery


Thanks to a large window door, it is possible to discover, from the Rotonde, the Auguste Rondel gallery; these outstanding 19th century bookstores gather the major part of the collection of Auguste Rondel, a patron fond of performing arts at the source of the department's collection.


These bookstores, formerly dedicated to the Rare Book Reserve, were also created by Henri Labrouste between 1870 and 1872. It is a huge space, 44 metre-long and 9.60 metre-large. The metal beams and compartments of the ceiling are painted in grey and red. On certain joists, are mentioned the names of personalities who marked the history of the library. There are oak panels on the whole height of the walls. At the end of each row, some desks equipped with show cases allowed to present the most precious bookbindings of the Reserve. They are now dedicated to the collections of the Performing Arts Department.

The reading room of the Performing Arts Department


Entirely redesigned and fit-out by the Agence Gaudin, it now stands as a sober, comfortable and suitable place to study. The setting and furniture are made of light wood which provides the place with natural softness. Over an area of 200m2, it proposes 28 seats among which 6 are dedicated to the consultation of large scale documents (posters, models...) Two audiovisual terminals allow to see videos of shows housed in the Department's collections. In the 'lounge' area, recent acquisitions and a selection of magazines are available to readers. An enriched and renewed offer of about 5000 works about all performing arts is available in free access.

Joël Huthwohl, director of the Performing Arts Department, presents the new facilities while talking about the richness and variety of collections. Production:La Mandarine. © BnF, 2016. Duration:4 min 36 s.

The reading room of the Manuscripts Department


A glass opening imagined by architect Bruno Gaudin allows to admire the now restored room of the Manuscripts Department. Listed by the French Historic Monument Society, it has benefited from funding of the American patron Mark Pigott for the restoration of the oak Versailles floor.

Located at the first floor of the Robert de Cotte wing, the room was fit ou by Jean-Louis Pascal between 1880 and 1886.
This beautiful room of about 350 m² has windows set in it that open on the courtyard of honour. Books in free acccess are proposed on oak stacks. At mid-height of the ceiling, a wood passageway is supported by sculpted consoles. Two magnificent finely carved spiral staircases lead to the bookstores.

Isabelle Le Masne de Chermont, director of the Manuscripts Department, presents the history of the reading room and the major phases of its restoration. Production:La Mandarine. © BnF, 2016. Duration: 4 min 40 s.

Thursday, August 17, 2017